The Wonderful World of the Dead
Klein, H.G. (2002) The Wonderful World of the Dead: A Typology of the Posthumous Narrative, EESE, 3, Available at http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic22/kleinh/3_2002.html
For there be divers sorts of death – some wherein the
body remaineth; and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit.
In one kind of death the spirit also dieth,
and this has been known to do while yet
the body was in vigor for many years.
Sometimes, as is veritably attested,
it dieth with the body, but after a season
is raised up again in that place
where the body did decay.
According to many systems of belief, there is a part of the human being which goes on to lead an independent existence even after physical death has set in. This part, which is usually called the soul, is assumed to be conscious and to bear the characteristic traits of the deceased’s personality. Since antiquity, this supposed transformation has been used for narrative purposes. But even in modern times, when the belief in an afterlife has become less widespread, authors have used it as a convenient fiction for their own ends. However, the ideas of what exactly constitutes death have been somewhat modified over the centuries, as have been those about the soul and the imagined conditions of the afterlife. The smallest common denominator for the declaration of death seems to be the ceasing of the bodily functions, but not necessarily that of consciousness. As a matter of fact, some sort of consciousness – wherever it is to be located – is a prerequisite for this type of narrative, because otherwise there would be nothing to narrate but what happens to the body after death. This consciousness, however, may take on many forms, reaching from a seemingly uninterrupted continuation of the earlier form of existence to an (almost) complete break with it. This is partly correlated with the question of how far the dead are aware of the fact that they are dead. Since the circumstances of the posthumous condition depend largely upon the various kinds of awareness belonging to this condition, the following observations will be structured upon the pattern of the latter. I shall therefore first describe various types of the posthumous experience – ranging from full knowledge and acceptance of death to complete ignorance – and then speculate upon their possible uses. Although I have tried to give historically important examples of the appearance of a particular type, systemisation rather than chronology has been my concern……………………………